North Carolina's air quality threatened on three fronts

December 26, 2012 

Here’s the long-range forecast for North Carolina in 2013: increasing smog and a diminishing ability to see ahead.

That’s the prospect that grows out of environmental news at year’s end:

• The state’s top utilities, Progress Energy and its parent, Charlotte-based Duke Energy, are seeking cuts in what they pay for power generated by non-utility sources – including green energy providers. The proposed cuts reflect how a drop in natural gas prices has made the purchase of power generated by water, wind, solar and other sources relatively more expensive. But cutting payments to green energy producers could hobble them – particularly the state’s fast-developing solar energy industry.

• The state’s Division of Air Quality, acting on legislation passed by the Republican-led General Assembly, will start crafting rules in January that will ease restrictions on air-polluting industries. North Carolina industries spewed 24 millions pounds of pollutants into the air in 2011, making the state the 12th highest for such releases.

•  Governor-elect Pat McCrory has selected as the next secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, John Skvarla, who thinks global warming is an open question. That make hits suitability for the job an open question.

It’s encouraging that Skvarla says he wants to find middle ground with advocates for the environment. But when it comes to protecting air, water and the natural legacy that will be left to future generations, compromised standards are often useless ones.

As Republicans take control of the governor’s office and the General Assembly for the first time in over a century, attention has focused on their agenda for the economy and social issues. But the most important debate may involve environmental protection policies, or rather the dismantling of them.

In the new year, North Carolinians will need to be especially vigilant about their natural resources. They can start by taking a deep breath. It may be the best air they’ll get for a while.

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